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COVID-19 fears affecting political campaign petition process

Attorney Michael Metille has experienced more than his share of difficulties in recent weeks as he knocks on the doors of Erie County’s Green Party members to get signatures on designating petitions.

The state’s new political calendar meant sometimes trudging through the snow, or at least prowling the streets in darkness.

But then came the COVID-19 scare, and convincing Greens to grab manhandled pens and clipboards has become the ultimate challenge.

“They’re concerned this is a potential way to transmit the disease,” he said. “You can’t wipe down a petition.”

He hopes the state can address the situation in the same way it is overhauling a host of other normal procedures.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is also aware of difficulties surrounding the petition process, part of election law requirements to qualify for primary and general election ballots. On Friday he told reporters in Albany that the state may take action.

“Normally you go door to door with a petition and you speak with the person who opens the door and you ask them to sign a petition,” he said. “This is not the time to be sending people door to door; it’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do.

“I don’t the know the specific solution,” he added, “but I know it’s something that we have to address.”

State Board of Elections officials say any remedies – such as reducing the number of needed signatures – would have to originate with the governor or Legislature because current requirements are set in statute.

That’s exactly what Metille is suggesting, citing the array of emergency powers that Cuomo has used to address the spread of the novel coronavirus around the state, especially in Westchester County.

“I am asking if he can present to the Legislature some kind of emergency relief on the collection of signatures because this is affecting the health and welfare of the citizens of Buffalo,” he said.

Board of Elections spokesman John W. Conklin said the situation has come to its attention, but that it must await direction from the governor and Legislature.

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